Colon cancer screenings drop amid COVID pandemic

Colon cancer screenings have dropped dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic, despite more awareness after actor Chadwick Boseman's death.

Video Transcript

- On the Healthbeat this morning, March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month. The death of actor Chadwick Boseman from colon cancer has raised awareness. He was only 43 years old. But at the same time, screenings for it have plummeted during this pandemic. Dr. Jacqueline Harrison is a colorectal surgeon with Cook County Health. Doctor, it's nice to have you. How are you?

JACQUELINE HARRISON: Good, how are you?

- I'm doing really well, thanks. How old should you be for your first screening, and how often should you get screened?

JACQUELINE HARRISON: So, if you are average risk patient, that means for most people, that they do not have a strong family history, then we used to say 50. But in the past few years, that's been decreased to age 45 is when you should start screening. And then if you're using a colonoscopy for screening and you have a normal colonoscopy, then you should be good for 10 years.

- Got it, and what is a typical screening like?

JACQUELINE HARRISON: Well, if you're using colonoscopy, the typical screening-- the most-- most patients say that the most unpleasant part of the screening is preparing for the test itself. So there's a day of preparation involved with laxatives, et cetera. And then you come in, get sedation during the test. So the test itself, for the most part, you are pretty much out of it for the test. Most patients complain about the lead-up to the test.

- For the people that don't want to deal with the prep and the sedation, are there different kinds of tests and screenings available?

JACQUELINE HARRISON: Certainly. For-- but I have to stress that those are for patients of average risk. So, no family history, no underlying inflammatory bowel disease, no colon cancer genetic syndromes. But for patients that are just average risk, there are a number of other screening tests that they can use, such as Cologuard, which tests for DNA in the stool, or Fecal Immunochemical Testing, or FIT for short, or fecal occult blood testing. Those are three of the most commonly used. Those are not invasive. They have to be done more often than a colonoscopy. And once again, they're just for average risk patients without a family history.

- Got it. Dr. Jacqueline Harrison with Cook County Health. Doctor, appreciate this. Thank you so much for your time.